Midmar Mile greats swop stories ahead of 2010 race

2010-02-04 00:00

MIDMAR Mile greats came together yesterday in preparation for the race set for next weekend.

Certified by Guinness as the world’s largest open-water race, the Midmar Mile will take place on February 13 and 14.

Race founder Buth Arbuthnot (77) started the race in 1974.

Petrol restrictions meant Arbuthnot could not travel to East London to compete in the Buffalo Mile. Instead, Arbuthnot and two others organised a similar race in Natal — at the Midmar dam.

Since then, Arbuthnot has seen the race develop from 153 entrants to 17 000.

“I am very pleased to see so many competent swimmers in the race,” Arbuthnot said.

He has participated in all 36 races, and has a few Midmar Mile stories to tell.

“I remember when the starter fell off the boat and into the dam!” he recollected.

Although he has participated in 36 races, Arbuthnot has swum the actual mile 66 times. This year, he hopes to bring his mileage to 70.

And despite jokes about needing to lean on Riaan Schoeman (the Midmar Mile defending champion) for a photograph, Arbuthnot says he feels “very confident” about the upcoming race.

Schoeman (20) has been swimming since he was eight years old.

“It was my goal to get to the Olympics in 2008 and I achieved it,” he said. “It’s the most amazing thing for a swimmer.” In his category, Schoeman was placed 12th at the Beijing Olympics.

Last year saw Schoeman win the Midmar Mile in what race director Wayne Ridden describes as a “very tight photo finish”.

“Swimming Midmar is very exciting,” says Schoeman. “Open-water swimming is so different. There’s more space for strategy, the race changes and it can be very unpredictable.”

Schoeman is a psychology student at Varsity College. And, although he studies during the day, Schoeman maintains he is ready for the swim. “I train in the morning and afternoons,” he said.

Altogether, Mervyn Bremner has swum 77 miles — that’s over 123 kilometres — at Midmar. This gives Bremner the record for the most official Midmar Mile swims.

This year, he aims to swim eight miles to bring his total to 85 swims.

Coincidently, Bremner heads the Eight Mile Club, a charity that raises funds for various initiatives.

Last year, the Eight Mile Club raised over R1 million for charity.

“It has really been so rewarding putting the Eight Mile Club together,” says Bremner who will be one of 50 entrants swimming eight miles for charity this year.

Ridden has been involved in the Midmar Mile since he won the 1975 race.

According to Ridden, there is much to look forward to this year — from the new Double Mile wetsuit swim to Olympic medallist Terrence Parkin’s initiative to raise money for a deaf school.

Ridden has been race director for 19 years. Although it’s a gruelling task, he says that “seeing Buth’s vision grow bigger and stronger after all these years makes it worth it.”

He acknowledges that it is hard work, but says that he “sees it as honouring Buth, the race’s founder.”

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